Increasing evidence suggests that changes in the cellular microenvironment contribute to tumorigenesis, but the molecular basis of these alterations is not well understood. Although epigenetic modifications of the neoplastic cells in tumors have been firmly implicated in tumorigenesis, it is not known whether epigenetic modifications occur in the non-neoplastic stromal cells. To address this question in an unbiased and genome-wide manner, we developed a new method, methylation-specific digital karyotyping, and applied it to epithelial and myoepithelial cells, stromal fibroblasts from normal breast tissue, and in situ and invasive breast carcinomas. Our analyses showed that distinct epigenetic alterations occur in all three cell types during breast tumorigenesis in a tumor stage- and cell type-specific manner, suggesting that epigenetic changes have a role in the maintenance of the abnormal cellular microenvironment in breast cancer.
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